For those of you who haven’t visited my website in the past two months, first of all…where the hell have you been? Second of all…to bring you up to speed, I just entertained US and British troops in Iraq. It was truly the most amazing experience I’ve had in my career.
It’s good to be back from the desert, which thankfully was slightly cooler than a solar flare. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly hot, but I heard stories of 130-degree days. To put it in perspective, when it’s 130 degrees outside, red-headed, freckled people turn to pure salt. My guess is that Lot’s wife was a red head. Speaking of which, it occurred to me while over there that I was touring the home of the Bible. That’s heavy reality! It’s like studying the Magna Carta and then visiting England. Or taking an interest in Sylvia Plath and then touring the original Prozac factory.
I had an unbelievable time to say the least. It was a pleasure working with some fine comics, whose websites I encourage you to visit: Tom Simmons (www.tomsimmons.net), Dave Mishevitz (www.monkeybunker.blogspot.com), Jeff Capri (www.jeffcapri.com), and Matt Iseman (www.mattiseman.com). Touring with people who are easy to get along with was vital, especially since Americans are not allowed to drink over there (had I known that, maybe I wouldn’t have signed on). We lucked out in that we all got along great, and the whole week was one to remember for a long time. We also had the privilege of meeting one bad-ass soldier—Captain Josh Stiltner (www.chicksdigbodyarmor.com) who guided us throughout our trek. He was, thankfully, ready to take on any trouble we encountered but was also able to chill out and make the week less stressful. Many thanks to him.
Some of what you are about to read is serious and some of it is comical, but I’m not going to tell you which is which. Kind of like how Dan Brown jerked you around in the Da Vinci Code. Similar to how you referenced Renaissance art while reading Brown’s novel, you can reference my photos at any time if you’d like. Just click over to my photo page and then click on…ah, hell, you can figure it out, unless you’re my mom, in which case you can call me and I’ll walk you through it.
We started the week in Kuwait, where we were reminded that it was the Muslim holy time of Ramadan. During this holy period, I noted how everything is taken seriously. Here’s a list of things that are illegal in Kuwait during the daylight hours of Ramadan: everything. Other than that, it’s a glorious, fun-filled holiday with decent food. Yes, that’s right…I ate local cuisine while in the Middle East. My friends bust my chops for fearing mad cow disease in America but then I’ll eat schwarmas in Kuwait. Those are pita sandwiches that tasted great but turned my ass into a weapon of mass destruction for 24 hours.
The next morning we had our first briefing and learned of our itinerary. This is when I discovered that we would indeed be performing in the volatile city of Baghdad, and I had to change my shorts for the first time. The second shorts change was when we suited up in body armor to convoy across the border into Iraq, and the sergeant in my Humvee notified me that we were “the convoy’s lead truck”. The thought of hitting a roadside bomb on the way to doing comedy was hard to dismiss, I have to admit. The driver wanted to me to tell him jokes on the way, to which I replied, “Hey, man…even Hawkeye Pierce was serious when he had to be. Tell you what…if I get to our destination with all my limbs, I’ll recite some overplayed and over-rated comedy catch phrases.” We arrived without incident in Camp Bucca, and I said, “Thank you!! Get r done!”
Camp Bucca was awesome. I encountered my first camel in its natural environment. That was interesting. He had a sinister look in his eye that I didn’t like, so I pre-emptively spat at him. I felt that I had to before he used his spit against me. It was only later that I learned he either buried his spit in a neighboring camel before I spit, or he never had any spit at all and I was the victim of overzealous intelligence. Whatever the case may be, my spit is over there and we should support it. How about that little analogy?
At Bucca, we were invited to climb the gun towers, where we fired machine guns and grenade launchers. I also learned how to properly put out a brush fire if your grenade launching aim is a tad off. Bucca is home to thousands of detained insurgents who were caught in the field of battle. It was here when I proposed that when a soldier arrests an enemy combatant, he should receive a sticker for his helmet. Kind of like what Ohio State does with its football players, only the soldiers have probably attended a class in their life (hello, Shockley). Or…the Army could be sponsored by Subway. For each insurgent arrest, a soldier gets a stamp on a card. Collect eight stamps and get a free 6-inch sandwich with the purchase of an overpriced fountain drink.
I must note here that prisoners/detainees are treated very well from what I hear. They’re given three meals a day, prayer time, recreation time, and different flavors of Pez. But with certain politicians wanting to include wet willies and multi-syllable words into the definition of torture, I’m sure at some point they will all just be released. Okay…off the soap box.
Next stop was Basrah, which is a mostly British camp. Those Brits are cool people. Not just cool as in nice, but also because they’re awfully laid back. They say “Cheers” for everything…hello, goodbye, thank you, good to see you, bite me, and suck it Vols, just to name a few. Whenever I was at a loss for words, I would just say “Cheers” and all was fine. It was like the word “Smurfy”, only the Brits had two girls on base whereas the Smurfs only had the one. The word “cheers” is used so much that it’s often said nonchalantly and, in my opinion, inappropriately. Take, for example, a security briefing we had before the show. During the day, soldiers found a few rockets pointed at the base. They defused them, of course, but we were made aware just in case there were any more out there. The magnitude of the reality didn’t really sink in until later, because this is how the news was presented to us: “Okay, listen up, mates. We found some rockets pointed at the camp earlier today. We destroyed them but there may be more, so be on alert. Cheers. Oh, and soccer is football and pants are trousers. Carry on. Cheers.” It didn’t hit me until later when I thought, “How the hell can anyone report that with such an unthreatened tone? And no…it’s called soccer, you wanker! Ah, who cares. They have extra large beer here.” Maybe that’s why they say “cheers” so much. They drink to everything, God love ’em.
Next up was Camp Tallil at the Ali Air Base (formerly the Cassius Clay Air Base, I guess). We flew there via Blackhawk helicopter, which is an impressive piece of machinery known for its high velocity, intimidating appearance, and the ability to make me remember every prayer I learned in Catholic school. Another surreal moment…flying over Iraq with machine gunners on each side. It was incredibly loud too—whenever I asked to operate a machine gun since I had so much practice at Camp Bucca, I was just given a weird look. I bet if they heard me, they would have allowed it.
While at Tallil, we got to tour the Ziggaurat of Ur, a 4,000-year old pyramid where they used to worship pagan gods and play Texas Hold ‘Em. It is also the former home of Abraham from the Old Testament. He lived in quite the neighborhood. Their Homeowners Association must have mandated a brick-and-sand-only ordinance for their community, because there wasn’t a lot of variation. I bet the TV show “Trading Sandlots” was very popular back then.
I took advantage of a large shop they have on base and bought a deck of those Iraqi “Most Wanted” cards. With some of those “cards” being apprehended, I suggested reshuffling the deck based on who is at large, who’s most dangerous, and strength of schedule. But nobody will listen, because they don’t want a playoff system to determine the new Ace of Spades. I suppose they’d rather leave it up to subjective voters.
After a brief stop in Camp Duke, we flew to Camp Victory in Baghdad. That’s right, people…Baghdad. The City of Brotherly Hate. There’s more security there than a Gap Store with Winona Ryder on the premises. We actually stayed for two nights in Saddam Hussein’s guest palace. I’ve never stayed anywhere nearly as spectacularly ornate and lavish (no offense, Knoxville Econo Lodge). There were swimming pools, manmade lakes, fountains, chandeliers, marble pillars, and gold everything. I can’t imagine what that jerk would think if he knew some jackass American comics were sleeping under his roof, using his furniture, and whizzing on his house ferns.
He also has bidets in each bathroom. Those are little showers for your heiny. The last time I saw one of those was in New Orleans, which also serves a doughnut called a beignet. I learned the difference only after it was too late. This is how I tried to pick up a girl in the French Quarter… “You like bidets? They’re great. You ever have a bidet with a hot cup of coffee? That’s a fantastic way to start the morning, I tell ya. Where are you going? What did I say?” Where ever Saddam is right now, I’m sure he’s getting neither.
We did shows at several camps in Baghdad – Camp Striker, Camp Taji, Camp Falcon, and Camp Loyalty. Taji featured a boxing ring as the stage, and it was one of the best crowds we had. Maybe it was because the bikini girl behind me was holding up cards indicating how much time I had left. At Taji, I ate my first MRE (Meal Ready to Eat). It was chicken and pasta, and it clogged me up like a pre-Katrina levee. I was tempted to eat another schwarma and let my stomach battle it out.
The last night in Baghdad featured a tour of Saddam’s old prison. If you don’t think that guy was a terror to his own people, you should see that place. It was built by Chinese workers, who he later locked up for life. As tempting as that is to do to some contractors you’ve dealt with, it’s just diabolical. He crammed 30-40 people into cells that looked like they could comfortably fit three. And there were no bidets. If it wasn’t illegal by international law, we should make him stay in one of those cells. And for his cellmates…a few Kurds armed with clubs, knives, and Kelly Clarkson music. I just hope where ever he is, he gets what’s coming to him.
And I hope the soldiers, Marines and airmen over there get what’s coming to them…a warm welcome home when they make it back. Regardless of how you feel about the war, we can all agree on one thing…camels are weird. But our servicemen/women deserve your support and prayers. They provided some of the most appreciative audiences I’ve ever performed for. They were attentive, polite, and said thank you after each show (see there, Paducah, KY crowds…it is indeed possible). But it was the comics who were thanking them for their sacrifice. They’re doing a great job over there and miss home tremendously, except maybe the ones from Arkansas (just kidding). Please send anyone you know over there a quick email to say hello. They’ll appreciate it. And while you’re at it, feel free to link this column to them too.
This whole trip was made possible by Rich Davis of Comics On Duty (www.comicsonduty.com), who I’d like to thank. It was truly an incredible experience that I will do again in a heartbeat.
Now I think I speak for everyone when I say…”Cheers!”